I was watching the TV show Biography recently, and the celebrity being profiled was none other than Ted Williams. No, not Ted Williams the famous hall of fame baseball player and arguably the greatest hitter of all time. Biography, (which has profiled famous celebrities from Barack Obama to Michael Jackson to the Beatles) was profiling the story of Ted Williams, the homeless “man with the golden voice” who was discovered on a street corner in Columbus, Ohio in January, 2011 – thanks to a YouTube video that went spectacularly viral, receiving over 13 million views before it was removed at the request of the Columbus Dispatch newspaper due to copyright infringement.

What is Viral Marketing?

Think about that for a second. From homeless to being featured on Biography in only six short months. Such is the awesome power of viral marketing. So, what exactly is viral marketing?

In essence, viral marketing is word-of-mouth advertising. Or, to be more specific, Internet word-of-mouth advertising. And as you know, word-of-mouth advertising is the most powerful method of advertising there is, bar none – online or offline.

Viral marketing exists in many forms including articles, videos, e-books, software, reports, interactive flash games, white papers, text messages – even tweets.

The term “viral marketing” was first used in 1997 to explain the extraordinary growth of Hotmail which accumulated over 8 million users in an astonishing 18 months. Hotmail was subsequently acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million.

And what exactly was Hotmail’s viral marketing success secret? Actually, it wasn’t a secret at all. It was a clickable, single line of text in the footer of each and every e-mail that was sent from a Hotmail account that read:

“Sent from my free Hotmail account. Get yóur own free web-based email account Here!”

Word-of-Mouth Advertising

We’ve all recommended products and services we liked or were satisfied with to family, friends and acquaintances. And we know how powerful and persuasive favorable movie reviews and restaurant reviews can be – because millions of us decide what movie to see or what restaurant to eat at based on the reviews.

Well, social media has made word-of-mouth advertising even more potent. According to a study by Performics, people on social media networks enthusiastically recommend companies and purchase products they follow. Among active Twitter users who follow at least one company, 59 percent are more likely to recommend a company they follow, and 58 percent are more likely to purchase a product they follow.

In addition, 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to take action when a friend posts something about a product/service, company or brand.

And opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising with 70 percent trusting consumer opinions posted online, according to the latest Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 Internet consumers from 50 countries. Those numbers simply cannot and should not be ignored.

How to Implement a Viral Marketing Strategy

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several of my articles go viral. In fact, a couple of my articles were so popular, at one time they were among the top 5k tweets on Twitter – out of 50 million daily tweets, according to Twitter’s analytics team. So, I’ve experienced first-hand the amazíng power of viral marketing.

In order for something to become viral – meaning, spread rapidly like a virus it has to be something that can easily be sent to others with little effort. The aforementioned Hotmail text link is a perfect example of something requiring little effort to pass along. Recipients merely had to click on a link. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

It should also be something that “stands out” from the rest of the content on the Internet. Ted Williams’ amazíng story is a perfect example of something that stood out and captured the hearts and imagination of millions of YouTube viewers.

Finally, it should have some sort of perceived value – not necessarily a monetary value per se. But it should have some sort of educational or entertainment value.

Following are 7 highly effective viral marketing techniques that should be part of your overall marketing strategy:

1. Videos. Upload an interesting, educational and/or entertaining video to YouTube, Metacafe and other video-share sites that captures the imagination of viewers, and anything is possible. Case in Point: Ted Williams. Need I say more? Speaking of videos, I’m currently in the process of converting some of my “How to” titles into videos…more on that later.

To learn how you can use videos to market your business even if you don’t have a camera, I highly recommend you Google and read Tracy Matthewman’s excellent tutorial, “How To Make Videos Even If You Don’t Have A Camera And Are Terribly Shy”.

2. Social Media. Although Hotmail achieved viral marketing success before the advent of social media, it’s hard to imagine a business having that same level of success today without participating in social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. Simply put, social media marketing, if executed properly, can put your viral marketing efforts on steroids!

3. Article Marketing. If you write articles and allow them to be syndicated, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one or more of your articles could go viral – provided, of course, they are well-written, interesting, educational and/or entertaining, and provide good value.

I receive articles in my e-mail box all the time from friends and colleagues who think the content is something I might be interested in reading. More often than not, they’re right. After you write your articles, you can significantly grow the reach of your content by converting them into videos, using conversion software such as ArticleVideoRobot.com and Article2Video.com. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in the process of converting some of my “How to” titles into videos.

If you don’t write well, or don’t enjoy writing, reputable and professional article writing services like Nicole Beckett’s PremierContentSource.com, can write articles for you at a reasonable cost.

4. Tweet Button. The Tweet Button is pretty much everywhere these days. This useful widget allows users to post a tweet to their Twitter profile from any website. Here’s how it works: Tweets posted using the Tweet Button are pre-populated with a shortened link to the webpage from which the message was sent (for example, your website). Users have the option of customizing the tweet’s content before posting it. This is an excellent way to give visitors to your site the ability to spread your content via Twitter. You can get a tweet button at the following link: twitter.com/goodies/tweetbutton

5. Share Widget. Share widgets give your visitors the ability to easily share and bookmark your website through popular social network websites. You can get a share widget from ShareThis.com.

6. E-Books. E-Books have long been one of the most effective methods of viral marketing because they’re easy to produce and have the ability to reach a large audience. If your e-book contains content that is interesting, entertaining and/or educational, and offers good value, readers will enthusiastically pass it along to others.

If writing isn’t your forte, rebrandable e-books (e-books written by others) gives you the ability to accomplish the same thing. WhiteDove Books.co.uk has an excellent affiliate program already set up through ClickBank. Simply rebrand the e-books, and give them away or sell them. You will then make commission on back-end sales from your affiliate links within the books.

7. Newsletters. Newsletters are not only an excellent way to keep the name of your business in front your subscribers, they also have excellent viral potential. To take full advantage of this potential, at the end of your newsletter, ALWAYS encourage readers to pass your newsletter along to others. You’d be surprised how many actually will – if you simply prompt them to do so. You can create a newsletter quickly, easily and inexpensively through services like ConstantContact.com and VerticalResponse.com.

By David Jackson (c) 2011